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Nicole Glover Trio at Smalls Jazz Club

David A. Orthmann By

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Nicole Glover Trio
Smalls Jazz Club
New York, NY
January 7, 2021

After the last selection of a heady, hour-long set, tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover introduced the band, thanked the staff at Smalls Jazz Club as well as the performance's sponsor, and added, "We're going to try to let the music speak for itself." Prior to these words, no song titles or comments of any kind were spoken. The music made a strong case for the claim that jazz is best experienced live—in this case, straight, with no extraneous information—rather than on records. While Glover's work on New Sounds by New Faces and Play On by Out To Dinner (both 2021 releases produced by Marc Free for Posi-Tone Records) is well worth checking out, the Smalls set was something else entirely, damn near the stuff of which legends are made.

In cahoots with bassist Daniel Duke and drummer Nic Cacioppo, Glover proffered a stunning, otherworldly performance, the kind that reverberates in your head for hours after the last note sounds. The music was devoid of filters, compromises, doubts and hesitations. If you wanted to come along for the ride, nothing less than full attention was required. Though the sounds made by Glover, Duke and Cacioppo were recognizably modern jazz, for much of the set there was too much going on to pause, identify guideposts, and attach familiar labels.

Throughout most of the selections the trio swung hard and forcefully, yet didn't show any signs of wasted motion, clutter or awkwardness. There were times when the swing felt like it could go on indefinitely and still feel fresh and inviting. The fury of the band's momentum nearly disguised the precision of Duke and Cacioppo. The bassist served as a ballast, holding down the band's center as well as offering brief respites during thoughtful introductions to some songs as well as in his solos. Cacioppo often seemed to be everywhere at once without overshadowing the others. A few examples include his articulate ride cymbal in concert with Duke's lines; snare and bass drum accents providing punctuation and making the trio sound larger; and in contrast to a busy, polyrhythmic attack, seasoning brief pauses in Glover's solos with one and two-stroke comments.

For all of the rapid shifts in vocabulary, phrasing and tone, Glover displayed an impressive command in shaping the entirety of her solos as well as the individual details. She could summon anything—from long, complex lines to jabbing two and three-note phrases—in an instant. On most of the selections Glover integrated a blues vernacular without sounding contrived. Even while drawing on the example of modern jazz saxophonists, she evinced an individualistic, dazzlingly complex, and emotionally resonant voice. Glover demonstrated an admirable maturity on a ballad, stating the head in a somber, unruffled tone and developing a solo in a way that was expansive but didn't violate the essence of the song. She opened another selection by herself, flinging terse abstractions out of the horn, morphing into more recognizable phrases, and then gleefully navigating a punishingly fast tempo set by Duke and Cacioppo.

While a dose of Glover, Duke and Cacioppo wasn't a cure for the rifts in the body politic, the fierce, relentless and complex sounds felt like a tonic during a discouraging era of social and political turmoil.

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